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In China and US, a values upheaval as economies slow

As the economy slows, Beijing leaders try to push a 'China dream.' In the US, the 'American dream" has shifted to a desire for economic security. The two global giants need watching as their values norms shift.

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People walk along a pedestrian street in downtown Shanghai April 26. As China's economy has slowed, its leaders talk of a "China dream" to unite the country for a new era.

Reuters

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Personal values in a society, such as the levels of trust and hope, often determine the health of an economy more than government. That’s why it is worth watching as the world’s two largest economies, China and the United States, each appear to be adjusting the value norms that have sustained their prosperity.

In the US, according to polls, the American dream has shifted from the pursuit of individual opportunities to simply seeking economic stability. This means trying to hold down a job as well as hold down one’s debt.

Credit-card debt has fallen since 2010 and the virtue of savings has returned. The Great Recession reversed the idea that increasing one’s debt is a guaranteed ticket to the middle-class lifestyle. According to a new Allstate-National Journal survey, more than half of Americans say there is less “opportunity to get ahead.”

And a similar proportion doubt whether a college degree is worth taking on student loans. Only 51 percent of workers feel comfortable with their finances for retirement, down from 70 percent just six years ago, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Avoiding risk is apparently the new moral norm in the US. This downsizing of aspirations is a long way from the description of the American dream as first defined by historian James Truslow Adams in a 1931 book: “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.”

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